Satine Phoenix has been very busy in 2018, but she was able to take some time and answer my questions. Here’s the interview.
Before we talk about gaming and your current projects, can you both tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure! I’m the Community Manager of Dungeons & Dragons. Additionally, the co-creator of Maze Arcana with Ruty Rutenberg. I founded the annual CelebrityChariD20.com with the help of Keith Baker back in 2010 where we raise money for the children’s literacy program Reach Out and Read which gets pediatricians to teach parents the importance of getting their kids to read, providing books from the ages of 6 months to 18 years of age. I’m also a comic book artist, Illustrator, sculptor, jewelry designer, Graphic Designer, and author. When I’m not working (which now consists of lots of Dungeons and Dragons games), I’m working out, hiking or sleeping. I really enjoy sleeping. It’s like a mini vacation.
How did you first get into tabletop RPGs and Dungeons & Dragons?
30 years ago I found an old DnD box set in our family basement. The basement itself was a dirt floor series of labyrinth like wood beams that wound around the underside of the whole house. The only light came from a bulb near the door. So, to start over, I found a treasure in our family dungeon. Opening it revealed a fantasy world I would spend the the rest of my life building characters and backstories for. Future me is so happy about the findings of 8 year old me.
When did you first take on the challenge of being a Dungeon Master? How did it go?
In 2010 when I started to build the community at Meltdown Comics we set up the whole area to hold many tables and players but DMs were impossible to find. I had to step up. In the beginning there were only a couple of us so I learned how to dm beginner games. I learned fast what I needed to but it was something I was always meant to do. It took believing in myself and courage to not worry about feeling like a fool in front of others. It’s not easy, but it’s more rewarding than I could have imagined. My heart is more full because of the stories I’ve made with others.
Do you have a favorite genre or theme you like to run? How about to play in?
I love fantasy swashbuckling silliness AND dark moody deep psychological games. My favorite setting is Eberron. It’s Arcana Punk. I imagine purples, blues, oranges and yellows with electric blues. It’s wide magic that infuses deeply in the world with Airships and Lightning rail trains infused with elementals. In Eberron I can play monsters or strange creatures like Kalashtar: Humans bound with creatures from the Dream Plane. The Kalashtar description was the first race I related to in any of the DnD settings. I like playing a Kalashtar Psion but it’s not often I can lately.
I also like hopping through dimensions & plane. Not necessarily Sci-Fi Fantasy, but an intense surreal fantasy.
Over all I like to be the hero who saves the day and makes the right choices. Or at least tries to.
What do you enjoy most about playing in games in published settings such as the Forgotten Realms and Eberron versus a homebrew world?
I’ve played mostly home brew my whole life until I met Keith Baker almost 10 years ago. Homebrew is fun because the stories depend less on the world than the characters. I enjoy the settings I’ve been learning about these last many years. It allows play from a different perspective and purpose.
Can you tell us about how you first met Ruty Rutenberg and started Maze Arcana?
June 1st 2016. Storm Kings Thunder event at Meltdown Comics. That was the day I met Nathan Stewart, Chris Lindsay & Ruty. The day that changed my life. I got into a car accident just over a year before and was still recovering from intense brain damage so I wasn’t able to run or play games. This was one of the first times, if not the first time I had played a game since the accident mostly because I wasn’t able to count, process many things mentally or speak in front of people. Not only that, but my brain damage was so bad I hadn’t been able to imagine. Just total dark blankness when I closed my eyes.
Chris Lindsay was DMing games and I was playing. He was warm and jolly and completely engaging as a DM! It was incredible to be back at the table! I paired up with another player who was as intense a role player as I. We helped each other across the battle field and had crazy fun! That was Ruty. I ended up playing 2 games that day and talked to Ruty after the show. He was fun and fast and as passionate about playing and the community and I was. We were instantly best friends. A hike a few days later and we realized we both wanted a best friend Playmate to do all of the things with and BAM! That was the beginning of Maze Arcana. We got in touch with Chris Lindsay through Keith Baker and with DnD’s generosity, ended up with the permission to perform Eberron on stream. Now, two years later the four of us are the best of friends and I honestly can’t imagine life without them.
The best part about all of this is that we have games where we can both express ourselves. Ruty & I are so different. He’s an Army Veteran and Screen writer. Very methodical & rules heavy in his storytelling. I’m a wild and whimsical comic artist who thinks physics in DnD is only a suggestion most of the time. Rules change based on the circumstances. You can see this in his Inkwell Society game & my Sirens of the Realms game.
Can you tell us a bit about Inkwell Society and Sirens of the Realms?
Inkwell is a Neon Noir about a bunch of Level 0 characters in the depths of Sharn in Eberron. Sirens of the Realms is a Fantasy Adventure where an all-girl bard band travels through the Forgotten Realms. One is dark and full of twisting mysteries, the other is playful and whimsical.
Ruty & I don’t try to be like anyone else. We can’t help but be ourselves and show that there is not one way to tell a story or DM a game. Not all games are for everyone and as long as everyone enjoys being a part of the story, that’s what is important.
You were at the Stream of Many Eyes earlier this year. What was your favorite experience at this event?
Every moment was my favorite. Watching the smiles and wonder in people’s faces as they walked into Waterdeep. Seeing my friends, old and new, dressed up as characters. Watching my girls work together and perform on stage. Watching Greg Tito, Pelham Greene and everyone who made the event work buzzing around so others had a good time. Meeting new friends. DMing the Sirens on stage & last but not least, the off the table game where I got to be the character I made when I was 12 years old.
What made you decide to get involved in running charity D&D games? What is CelebrityChariD20 and will there be one this year?
Growing up I was part of the Masonic Fraternity. A Rainbow Girl. Since 11 years old I’d been volunteering and helping raise money for charities. In my 20’s I stepped away from that life, but as I neared my 30’s I realized what was important and missing. It was a natural idea. I wanted to hang out with my friends and play DnD & raise money for charity. That’s it. I just wanted to do that all at once and so CelebrityChariD20.com was born.
So I heard you played ‘D&D in a Castle’ earlier this month?
The Castle was incredible! There will be another next year in England! dndinacastle.com with Maze Arcana. We are working with Cameron, Tara & Romy to make next year’s event even more dreamy!
As the host of Game Master Tips on Geek & Sundry, you must be pretty comfortable giving out GM advice. I want to ask you for some GM tips to share with our readers, but can I first ask if you’ll be involved with a third season of GM Tips?
The future holds many new things. That’s all I can say. As for comfortable in giving advice, I’m pretty comfortable talking with others. I didn’t realize I had anything to say until they asked me to do GMtips. I never thought I was an expert, I just happened to have a lot of experience with DnD. My advice is much like my take on the show. You are not an island, you become more vibrant through your experiences with others. Play lots of games with different DMs. The good ones will teach you as much as the not as good ones. You find out more about yourself and how to communicate with others by playing and experiencing. That’s why I chose to not do “Satine’s tips” and went with the #Wereallinthistogether format. I’m a better DM because of the other DMs I had on the show and in life.
Do you have any advice for people looking to start live streaming their game on Twitch?
Think about what you want out of it and why you are doing it and how much time you can dedicate. A Twitch channel, to be profitable, requires a consistent minimum of three days a week programming of four hours a day. It’s a business where you have to advertise and promote and establish expectations with your audience. Contracts, and IPs & budgets.
There are much easier and better quality ways of recording your game to look back on.
What are the benefits of having a background in performing when playing a tabletop RPG?
I did stage theater for many years as a kid. It helps with self-awareness, how you look to your audience, blocking (how to talk to others while keeping your body open so the audience can see), posture, as well as how to focus on your other performers and react to them versus acting at them. This is more than improv. This is presence & living in the most honest of moments.
What advice would you give non-performers to become better at getting into character?
Don’t worry about the camera. Sit up straight, know your character and their abilities. Think fast and be prepared. Most importantly, listen to the people around you and react to their choices. Listen to and NEVER interrupt the Dungeon Master, they’re giving you vital information. Respect everyone at the table. DM, Players & yourself.
Do you change your style or techniques when running a streamed game for an audience?
Streamed and Home games are absolutely different. I can slouch and do quiet slow things that while magical and mysterious in person will put a viewer to sleep on camera. I definitely theater it up on camera but I also like that there are two different styles on and off camera, for my own sake.
Has the climate of tabletop RPGs and gamer culture in general shifted to be friendly to anyone interested in playing at a table? How do you see tabletop RPGs evolving over the next 5 years?
Within the last eight years I’ve watched the entire community open and be more and more welcoming; although, we have a long way to go. As long as everyone has support of one another, more people will feel comfortable about coming out to play. People standing up for one another will prevent others from taking advantage of situations. If we continue down this path with the idea that we all need practice and help in knowing how to support one another and that misunderstandings can be cleared with communication, I think we will be very far along in 5 years. It’s a mystery I’m happy to watch unfold.
I read that you are sometime called the ‘Queen of D&D’. Do you in fact have a crown? Was there a big coronation?
That’s the craziest thing in the whole world. I’m humbled constantly. I have wonderful silly friends who say the nicest things. I would have said no to the crown question, but while at DnDinacastle.com my players gave me the amazing present of a crown as a thank you for volunteering to DM a 3 day game for them. Never in my entire life would I ever had expected that. Such a fun surprise!
To be serious, what do you think has been your biggest impact on D&D?
My biggest impact on DnD? I’m not sure that I have made an impact on DnD itself. I hope by me being true to myself and not pretending to be anything but who I am in all of my me-ness that others will feel comfortable in being their own themselves-nesses. Maybe by being me: a Eur-Asian bisexual Goth Nerdy Fashionista female, others like me might come forward and have someone to relate to. I’ve found more people like me in this community which is great because I no longer feel alone in the world.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers that we haven’t already discussed?
This game is pure magic. Real magic. All of the pressure of life lifts when I look around the table to see the emotions of my players on their faces. Some who are usually stoic seep emotions through their child-like gaming eyes. People from all walks of life and all ages come together to play. No longer do we have to feel alone. Now with the connectivity of the internet the idea is less “Looking for group” and more “Looking for the right group”. Remember: not all games are for everyone. Sometimes you have to try out a few DMs and groups in order to find the one that is right for you. If it doesn’t work, be honest. “I’m sorry, I don’t think this story is right for me.” It’s not that a DM is good or bad, it’s just preference. We all, DM & Players, volunteer our precious time to play with one another. Find the group that resonates with you.
Thanks so much for taking time to provide us with such great answers and chance to get to know you a bit.
Photo is from Stream of Annihilation in 2017 and was provided by WotC.